Metis Society leads animal rescue from fires

In difficult times, there are always people ready to step forward and offer help to those in need, whether they have two legs or four.

One of those people in Merritt is Betty Ann McDonnell, who has a long history of charitable service in the Nicola Valley with cat rescue and the Nicola Valley and District Métis Society, of which she is the president.

After the devastating Lytton Creek fire on June 30, McDonnell wanted to check in and make sure everyone was getting the help they needed.

“When the Lytton fire happened later that day I called a family I know in Lillooet, just wondering how they were doing,” McDonnell said.

The matriarch of this family worked to register the evacuees who had fled Lytton.

“She said to me, I’m at the response center in Lillooet and recording people, and someone came over who really made it clear to me that we each have what’s important to us and how we have to. respect it, ”McDonnell reported. of their conversation.

“A lady has just entered, she had no shoes on, but she had her cat under her arm. And that’s his family.

As an animal lover and cat rescuer, this prompted McDonnell to think about what would happen to the evacuee’s pets.

As a former Director of Emergency Support Services who was also part of a mobile support team that attended wildfires in Barriere, Kamloops, Kelowna, Salmon Arm and various other locations around the province, McDonnell recalled that there used to be a pet response team who also be called upon.

When she raised the possibility, she was told there was no plan for a pet response.

“It worried me because I knew people were taking their animals out,” McDonnell said.

At this point, Animal Response became more than McDonnell’s Project, as she called Vernon’s Gena and Dale of the Animal Auxiliary.

“I called her and explained to her what was going on, and she said we’ll be there in two days with a bunch of stuff,” McDonnell explained.

After tracking down a few leads, McDonnell hooked up with Stephen McNiven, Superintendent of School District 58, and was offered the Central Elementary School Dining Hall, where Gena and Dale quickly unloaded a truckload of crates, food, water dishes, leashes and other pet necessities. .

As evacuees flocked to the town of Merritt, they searched for friends, family and hotel rooms, and many could not have their pets with them in their temporary accommodations. That’s why the Nicola Valley Animal Response has launched a call for foster homes.

“There were a lot of amazing people coming together,” McDonnell said.

About 30 cats and kittens and ten dogs have been welcomed into the community, some of whom are only returning to their families now.

As more and more people were displaced, the number of animals requiring assistance increased.

“It became clear that we needed to expand and include feed for chickens, pigs, horses, llamas, and of course I didn’t have any,” said McDonnell, who had primarily focused on animals. domestic workers.

“We had groups from Kamloops, Vancouver, Chilliwack, different animal groups as well as a Sikh group, there were so many, bringing us animal food. They heard that I was looking for this food and trying to figure it out, and they spread the word. In less than an hour, they had a response, they donated $ 1,000 to help us, and that was from Australia. ”

This donation was given directly to Purity Feed Merritt so McDonnell could stock up on needed feed. Locals in the Kelowna area also answered the call for donations and soon two trailers of various Buckerfields feed and litter arrived in Merritt, along with two loads of hay which were stored at the Nicola Valley Rodeo Grounds, which housed also evacuees and livestock. .

“These bands, I can’t say enough about them,” McDonnell said.

Henriette Stirling, the janitor in charge of Central Elementary School, was also praised.

“This most wonderful lady went whenever I needed to and unlocked this school,” McDonnell said.

Other people who helped carry the weight of the Animal Response initiative were Métis summer students Drake Dumont, Vic, and Barb Cavaliere, who provided storage space in the garage, and an assortment of volunteers who helped managed logistics as well as field work. Georgina Johnny took on the monumental task of delivering donations to where they were needed, often having to make detours of several hours to reach people in the Kamloops area or the west side of Lytton.

While no payment of any kind was required to seek help from the Nicola Valley Animal Response, McDonnell noted that she was pleasantly surprised to receive local gifts from those who returned home. them along Highway 8.

“They were incredibly kind and sent me eggs, zucchini and tomatoes, and I’m so grateful,” McDonnell said.

“I can’t say enough about all the people who stepped forward and helped and cared.”

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